On Tuesday, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of placing a moratorium on the county’s collection of fees from families for kids’ juvenile justice system involvement.
Contra Costa currently charges $17 a day for electronic monitoring, and a “cost of care” fee of as much as $30 a day when kids are locked up in juvenile hall. While some counties levy even more charges against families, Contra Costa only collects these two fines. The fee amounts are, however, some of the highest in the state, and often push poor families into serious financial strain and debt, while pushing their kids further into the justice system.
A team of law students from UC Berkeley’s Policy Advocacy Clinic has been instrumental in stopping the fees in several California counties, including Contra Costa.
The Berkeley research shows that the collection of administrative fees from families has no rehabilitative, restorative, or retributive value. The practice only acts to recover costs to the county. Except in Contra Costa’s case, the the county doesn’t even make enough money from the fees to cover the cost of collecting them.
“The infrastructure that the county has to collect this fee is more expensive than the net amount that the county gets from this fee,” said Supervisor John Gioia.
In neighboring Alameda County, families used to be charged for GPS monitoring, community supervision, nights in juvenile hall, and more. Then in March, after UC Berkeley researchers revealed the significant burden these costs place on low-income families, Alameda abolished the fees for its residents. The Berkeley report found that the costs were adding up to more than $2,000 per case, with many totals much higher.
(In case you were wondering, Los Angeles and San Francisco do not charge these administration fees to kids’ families. LA County approved a moratorium on the fees in 2009. SF never charged fees.)
At the state level, California Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) introduced a bill introduced a bill this year that, had it survived, would have eliminated administrative fees for kids locked up or placed on probation statewide.
KQED’s Sukey Lewis talked with one Contra Costa County mother who was slapped with a bill for the 313 days her son spent in juvenile lock-up. Here’s a clip:
Contra Costa has some of the highest fees in the state — up to $30 per day for juvenile hall detention and $17 per day for ankle monitoring. That means M.C. could have been billed more than $9,000 for the cost of holding her son.
She works as a house cleaner and was already struggling to make ends meet. M.C. told the probation department she couldn’t pay the full amount, and they reduced her bill to $939.
M.C. started paying it off when she could, about $50 a month, but she says the fees felt like an injustice. It made her “angry to see these letters arrive charging me money, and my son was locked up, and still they wanted to blame him for something he never did.”
After more than two years, all charges against her son were dropped, and he came home.
But M.C. still had to pay the probation department.
Under state law, the county had every right to do this. The California Welfare and Institutions Code holds parents financially responsible for their kids even while in custody. The logic goes that if M.C.’s son were at home she would have to pay for the cost of clothing him and feeding him, so she should have to reimburse the county for those same costs.
Youth Radio’s Myles Bess recorded the above video following Alameda County’s decision to suspend juvenile justice fees.